“There is demand for our medicine and there are many ways to deliver it; the challenge is to figure out what works to your strengths.”
Dr. Julie Briley was well on her way to a career in environmental education work before discovering naturopathic medicine. Then she realized that she could combine all of her passions in one field.
Initially, Dr. Briley earned a Bachelor of Science degree from the University of Wisconsin, Madison, where she focused on education program development for underserved communities.
After graduation, she served in the U.S. Peace Corps as an Environmental Education Specialist in Paraguay. “There, in addition to natural resource conservation, I began to develop and provide health education,” she says. “I worked with families to start organic gardening, I created and facilitated a women’s cooking group, and I worked in elementary and middle schools on topics including physical education, disease prevention, and dental hygiene. I began to expand and apply concepts of environmentalism to health and learned local plant medicine from my neighbors.”
Once she returned to the U.S., she and her husband started a family, and that’s when her discovery of naturopathic medicine began. “I struggled to find a doctor or pediatrician that could provide health care focused on holistic health,” she says. “During that time, my interest in nutrition and natural medicine grew while I was looking to further my education. I remember thinking that it shouldn’t be a struggle to find a doctor with knowledge about nutrition, lifestyle medicine, prevention, natural medicine, and an alternative to conventional pharmaceuticals.” So, she took matters into her own hands.
Exploring naturopathic medicine
Dr. Briley wasn’t familiar with the field until she learned about it online. “I immediately knew it was the perfect path for me, given my background, history, and interests,” she recalls. “I could see that it was the only way that I could provide health care that incorporated nutrition, natural medicine, and prevention to assist others on their healing journeys.”
From there, she visited accredited naturopathic medical schools and decided to attend the National University of Natural Medicine.
NUNM’s lasting impact
During her time at NUNM, Dr. Briley learned from respected academic and clinical faculty. “The most important aspect I gained from NUNM was that it gave me a very strong foundation in the naturopathic principles and history of the medicine, which is woven into the curriculum,” she says. “Since graduating, I continue to learn new treatment approaches, but I always return to the naturopathic principles when considering the best approach to patient care.”
Since she was also raising two daughters while attending NUNM, she had to be very efficient with her time outside of classes and clinic in order to prepare herself for a successful career. “I aimed to get involved with groups and projects that would give me experience and insight into what could benefit me as I began my career as a naturopathic doctor.”
“For example, I explored international work as co-president of Natural Doctors International, planning a student brigade to Nicaragua,” she says. “I volunteered with Oregon Physicians for Social Responsibility, helping to organize lead testing clinics in Portland. I had an NUNM faculty mentor during my last year at NUNM who gave me the skills and confidence I needed to feel prepared for clinical practice.”
During her last year of school, Dr. Briley came across an opportunity to help with a community-based nutrition education project. “I remember reading the job description and thinking about how my experience and passion could not have been a better fit for the program,” she says. “Luckily, Dr. Courtney Jackson, the project leader, thought so too, and it was the beginning of major changes in my life and career.”
Bob’s Red Mill partnered with NUNM to create a free community-based nutrition program, then known as the ECO Project (Ending Childhood Obesity). As a student, Dr. Briley helped Dr. Jackson to develop the curriculum and implement the first cooking and nutrition series for the program.
These experiences, coupled with her robust education in the classroom, helped propel her into her professional life after graduating.
Hitting the ground running
After graduation, Dr. Briley was hired to develop and expand the program. “Dr. Jackson and I have now worked together for over six years,” Dr. Briley says. “We learned that there was a large audience clamoring for what we provided, and so the ECO Project developed into NUNM’s Food as Medicine Everyday (FAME) series. This eventually led to the creation of the Food As Medicine Institute at NUNM, which now offers conferences, workshops, and a variety of resources to the public as well as a broad spectrum of healthcare practitioners.”
“The small project we created in 2011 has grown way beyond our wildest imaginings,” she adds. “We have been featured in a commercial documentary film, interviewed on TV and in the newspapers, and much more. Our timing was impeccable—more and more people were just discovering the connection between health and nutrition. I was incredibly blessed to be at NUNM at just the right time.”
Balancing education, practice, and family
Dr. Briley now works full time, splitting her time between the Food As Medicine Institute at NUNM and her private practice. “I feel that I have the best of both worlds. I enjoy the diversity of working one-on-one with patients in my clinic and helping them reach their health goals, while also developing the ability to reach more people through my work at NUNM,” she says.
She and Dr. Jackson also published a book, Food As Medicine Everyday, Reclaim Your Health with Whole Foods, and they have been working to make FAME a national program by training other naturopathic doctors and nutritionists to implement the program in their communities. “I hope the FAME series will not only benefit the public, but also can provide an additional opportunity for ND and nutrition graduates,” she says.
Advice for aspiring NDs
Dr. Briley finds her work to be very valuable to her patients. “I like knowing that I am providing a service and approach to health care that people want and need,” she says. “I feel it is my job to educate patients on every aspect of their health; whether explaining normal physiology, understanding their lab results, or why a certain diet approach will help their condition, for example. Empowering a patient is one of the most important things I do.”
“The flexibility of my profession has allowed me to grow and pursue opportunities that I would not have thought possible just six years post-graduation. I have been able to grow and maintain a successful clinical practice while also continuing to provide community-based education through the Food As Medicine Institute,” she says. “Not everyone is able to see a naturopathic doctor, but I am reaching more people than I ever could in just a one-on-one clinical practice through these other endeavors, which is deeply gratifying.”
Her best piece of advice for those considering naturopathic medicine is to prepare for the entrepreneurial nature of the field. “There is no cookie-cutter job track for naturopathic doctors,” she says. “There is demand for our medicine and there are many ways to deliver it, the challenge is to figure out what works to your strengths.”
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